In northern Afghanistan circa 2006, the Americans had a series of outposts to promote counterinsurgency and “connect with locals”. Camp Keating was nestled in a valley surrounded by Hindu Kush mountains in an attempt to stop the flow of weapons and Taliban fighters from nearby Pakistan.
The camp is an exhausting place to be with near constant firefight. It’s also nearly indefensible, and what personnel survive quickly burn out. But this movie primarily covers the Battle of Kamdesh of October 3, 2009, one of the bloodiest for US forces in the war in Afghanistan. They were assaulted by hundreds of Taliban insurgents who breached the bases’s perimeter defenses in just 48 minutes and lit the outpost on fire. There had been a systematic failure to adequately support the base, but the the troops on the ground repulsed the attack “with conspicuous gallantry, courage and bravery.” Due to a lack of available aircraft and density of terrain, help was slow to reach them – most didn’t arrive until after the 14 hour battle was over. The small contingent of American troops lost 8 soldiers that day, with 27 more wounded; those that survived did so thanks to bombers arriving to coordinate airstrike.
If you like war movies, this one is well-made. If you’re prone to migraines, this one’s constant gunfire makes it a major trigger. Once the battle starts, it’s unrelenting, and it wasn’t exactly easy going before that either. The intensity is real, and the realism is ugly.
The movie thinks that SSG Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) is our hero, but he’s just the guy who wrote the book. Caleb Landry Jones, the much much better actor, as SPC Ty Carter, is the guy you can’t take your eyes off of. I dare you to try. Aside from Jones, I won’t say the acting impressed me much. The lesser roles are sprinkled with real-life soldiers, but they aren’t shouldering enough to ruin anything. It’s the Hollywood royalty who’s mucking things up, and I don’t just mean Scott Eastwood, though I definitely do put him first on my list. A smolder is not enough, Scott. A famous dad apparently is, and he clearly shares a tendency toward a certain kind of film as his old man. Milo Gibson is of course Mel’s son. James Jagger belongs to Mick. Will Attenborough is the grandson of Richard. Scott Alda Coffey is grandson to Alan Alda. And of course Orlando Bloom is Mr. Katy Perry. No one need win a role by merit here!
The unit from Combat Outpost Keating became the most decorated, though I doubt that’s much comfort: 27 soldiers were awarded the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat, 37 were awarded the Army Commendation Medal with “V” for valor, 3 soldiers were awarded the Bronze Star Medal, and 18 others the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor. Nine soldiers were awarded the Silver Star for valor. Two were later upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross. The Outpost is a fitting tribute to the kind of hard work and heroism that earn those medals. For me, it was too much. It was non-stop violence while I felt no emotional connection to any of the characters. But I’m confident that fans of the genre will find a lot to like here – a stunning, expertly and respectfully made modern war movie.